JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would limit the number of agencies that can enter agricultural facilities and place narrow restrictions on the conditions under which they can do so.
Supporters of HB 574, sponsored by Rep. Kent Haden, R-Mexico, said the primary aim of the bill is to protect Missouri’s farmers from unnecessary government overreach as well as from biosecurity breaches.
Biosecurity is a chief concern especially for concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, which can be vulnerable to the introduction of deadly diseases like the African swine fever by inspectors.
The bill gives sole authority for the inspection of agricultural grounds or facilities to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, county sheriff’s departments and “any other federal or Missouri state agency with statutory or regulatory authority.”
It further stipulates that no other entity may inspect an agricultural facility “unless requested by the owner.”
One impetus for the bill, according to Haden, is past instances of unauthorized groups, “usually humane groups,” coming onto agricultural facilities and demanding to inspect them. He said this problem has grown as other states have passed animal rights laws and sent inspectors to Missouri to inspect facilities in the state as a result.
Haden and other supporters said the bill will give farmers clarity about who is and is not authorized to inspect their facilities.
The bill passed over pointed objections from Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis, who expressed concerns throughout HB 574’s development about specific language within it.
McCreery, the ranking minority member of the House Agriculture Policy Committee, argued that while she is not opposed to the bill’s overall intent, some of its provisions are unnecessary and redundant because there are already “countless” anti-trespassing laws on the books in Missouri.
McCreery attempted unsuccessfully to pass an amendment to the bill Tuesday that would have changed the “unless requested by the owner” language to “without the consent of the owner.” She argued that requiring a formal request by a property owner could hinder the Highway Patrol and municipal police departments’ ability to enforce laws unrelated to agriculture.
“Not all things that happen on agricultural land and on farms are related to the animals,” McCreery said. “There are other things that can happen. This law, as written, is so narrowly focused, I’m concerned that it would prevent law enforcement from being able to do their jobs.”
In voting down her amendment, supporters of the bill argued that McCreery’s concern was already addressed by the existing language.
“We seem to be wanting to put some things into state law that truly protect those that are the bad actors,” McCreery said at the final House hearing before the bill’s passage Thursday. “So I feel like this bill is attempting to go after the fear of certain groups of people coming onto a farm (when) we already have laws in place that would prevent that.”